Sam Torrance - Out of Bounds
The Ryder Cup has dominated my career. I cried at the end of my first match on my debut in 1981; I cried when holing the ‘putt that won the Ryder Cup’ in 1985; and I cried when captaining Europe to victory in 2002.
Tears of frustration, tears of emotion, tears of joy – I have shed them all during my eight appearances as a player, my one time as a vice-captain and when in charge. I feel myself welling up just writing the words ‘Ryder Cup’. I believe it to be the greatest sporting contest in the world, three days of intense head-to head, mano a mano, passionate rivalry that can inspire lifetime friendship and camaraderie. It has generated controversy, acts of great sportsmanship and moments of thoughtless excess and any number of tales, some humorous and some touching.
Think funny, think one of my best friends, David Feherty. The master of the one-liner, this Northern Ireland-professional-turned-American-golf-broadcasting sensation has been cracking jokes and cracking people up for just about all of his fifty-three years. When we both made the Ryder Cup team in 1991 for what became the so-called ‘War on the Shore’, it was pretty much taken for granted that captain Bernard Gallacher would put us together. We sat out the morning foursomes and emerged as the first pair in the afternoon fourballs against that golfing gunslinger Lanny Wadkins and Mark O’Meara.
To say Feherty was nervous is something of an understatement. His first putt from 15 feet did not so much threaten the hole as run away from it as the ball rolled 3 feet short and 4 feet wide. It was basically a duff. So jittery was he that I felt I had to say something of a consoling and encouraging nature, one friend to another.
‘If you don’t get your act together, I’m leaving you, joining them and you can play all three of us, you useless bastard!’ I said. I wonder what the mind gurus that now litter our game would have made of that. David was later to wax amusingly on what proved to be his only Ryder Cup experience. ‘Kiawah Island was so difficult it was possible to drop a shot between the locker room and the first tee,’ he told Golf magazine. ‘The greens were harder to hit than Oscar de la Hoya’s nose.’
Mainly due to my partner’s good play we reduced a three hole deficit to one by the short 17th, which I birdied by hitting a 4-iron stone dead. But O’Meara managed to match my two. That guaranteed the Americans at least a halved match. But David was faced with a 10-foot birdie putt on the final green to gain Europe a half point. For the first time in the entire day he asked me to read the line. ‘Left edge,’ I said positively. ‘Just knock it in.’ And he did.
Feherty’s version was slightly more theatrical. ‘I had read the greens like a Russian newspaper all day, so I asked Sam to aim me,’ he said. ‘Somehow I made a controlled spasm and the ball rolled into the centre of the cup. The crowd roared; I almost fainted.’
I remember speaking to David about the Ryder Cup. I likened it to having children. People who do not have kids cannot really relate to those who have. In the same way, you cannot really understand what a Ryder Cup is about unless you are lucky enough to take part in one.
Jose Maria Olazabal, the 2012 captain, understood. I remember kneeling beside him behind the last green at Kiawah when Bernhard Langer and Hale Irwin were approaching the dramatic conclusion to the match. Langer was to play.
‘Come on, San,’ he said. Like Seve Ballesteros and the rest of the Spaniards, Olly experienced difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘m’. ‘Come on, San, watch de ball, watch de ball, you can make it move, watch de ball.’ He really believed our willpower could move the ball in the right direction. You never thought anyone could surpass Seve for passion but Olazabal came close. He is a fantastic man, a wonderful team player with a great head on his shoulders.
My first Ryder Cup was at Walton Heath in 1981, against the strongest team the United States ever assembled. At the time nine of their twelve players had already accumulated thirty-six major championship victories. Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite went on to win majors leaving only Bruce Lietzke without one of the big four. And he was plenty good enough.
Tom Watson, Bill Rogers and Larry Nelson arrived at Walton Heath having won the Masters, the Open and the USPGA respectively that year. I made my first outing in the afternoon fourball with Howard Clark, who was to become my best and favourite Ryder Cup partner over the years. We still call each other ‘partner’ when meeting or telephoning each other.
We were supposed to assume the role of cannon fodder to the American duo of Johnny Miller and Tom Kite. We had other ideas.
I remember eagling the 14th to square the match. And I had a 12-foot birdie putt on the final green to gain an unexpected point. I cried in frustration as the ball horseshoed out. That miss broke my heart. But our better ball of 65 proved we could handle the pressure.
The following day – my partnership with Howard surprisingly broken up – I teamed up with Nick Faldo. We were thrashed 7 and 5 by the combination of Lee Trevino and Jerry Pate. It was an extraordinary performance. Pate never hit a shot without Trevino telling him exactly what to do. Pate followed the instructions to the letter every time. As Trevino quipped, ‘Jerry had everything . . . from the neck down. With my brains and his swing we were unbeatable. I told him what clubs to play and even gave him the line of the putts.’
I drew Trevino in the singles. We had known each other for years. ‘Sammy, I am going to beat the moustache off you,’ Trevino said, when we bumped into each other on the putting green at Selsdon Park Hotel, the base for both teams.
Well, Supermex whipped me 5 and 3, in about two hours and I shaved off my moustache for the official dinner that Sunday night at Walton Heath. Trevino never played another Ryder Cup. I like to think that I saw him off! I saw off a few, in fact. Tom Watson never played another Ryder Cup after beating me 3 and 1 in 1989 and ditto Lanny Wadkins after halving his singles with me in 1993. No staying power!
Europe should have won in 1983. Tony Jacklin had assumed the captaincy and the match at West Palm Beach marked the first collective appearance of the ‘famous five’, the five great European players who, as it happened, were born within eleven months of each other in five different countries: Seve Ballesteros from Spain, Nick Faldo from England, Bernhard Langer from Germany, Sandy Lyle from Scotland and Ian Woosnam from Wales. All would be major winners and, together, all contributed to changing the course of Ryder Cup history.
We should have won in 1983, but we returned home knowing we would win next time. The 1985 Ryder Cup at The Belfry changed my life. Not much more needs to be said about my holing the putt that won the Ryder Cup. It could have been Howard Clark had he not missed a 4-footer on the 17th moments before I sank mine on the 18th. Without any disrespect to Andy North, it helped my cause that I had been drawn against one of the weaker members of the American team. While Manuel Pinero stood up in the team room with his famous ‘I want Wadkins’ – and he got him – I was very happy to be drawn against North in the singles.
When he drove into the water at the 18th I was virtually home and dry. Andy is now a distinguished golf broadcaster with ESPN and every time we meet we exchange warm smiles and hellos. In a sense he played his part in changing my life.
If 1985 was special, 1987 was more so. Europe became the first Ryder Cup team from this side of the Atlantic to win on American soil. I proposed to Suzanne on Concorde on the trip over at perhaps the height of our passionate relationship. At least that is how it appeared, with the Daily Mail printing a cartoon showing Suzanne draped round me as I tried to putt. Tony Jacklin came out with his famous line, ‘Sam, I’m resting you tomorrow morning – you’re playing!’
My singles match against Larry Mize also proved influential in my career. For in my moment of victory, my first attack of the yips can be traced. I required two putts from just 15 feet below the hole to gain a crucial point. I settled over my putt and felt my hands shaking uncontrollably. I did not know when I eventually hit the ball if it would come up 6 feet short or 20 feet past. As it happened, it finished pretty much stone dead. But that is where the twitch began and my subsequent struggles on the greens only disappeared when I adopted the broomhandle putter the following winter. That is how Ryder Cup pressure can affect you. Ask Mark Calcavecchia, ask Eamonn Darcy, ask Craig Stadler, ask anyone.
Fred Couples, a dear friend, put it pretty well. ‘The first time I played in the Ryder Cup I couldn’t breathe,’ he said.
Pressure, though, can also inspire moments of greatness. Ask Christy O’Connor Jnr, whose 2-iron to the 18th at The Belfry in 1989 pretty much ensured that Europe would retain the trophy. Of course, it was desperately disappointing for us that we lost the last four matches on the course to allow the Americans to salvage a 14–14 draw.
Christy played a blinder and not just on the course. Top singer Chris de Burgh may have been top of the bill at the gala dinner, but Christy was persuaded to do a turn. He stole the show with a tear-jerking performance.
There are two tales from that match that demonstrate the intensity with which Seve approached the Ryder Cup. He hated America in this context. ‘I know they think they are the last Coca-Cola in the desert,’ he wrote in a letter to the team and me ahead of the 2002 match.
Gordon Brand Jnr was my partner for the first-day fourball against Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger, two future Ryder Cup captains. It came down to the last, where my good friend and fellow Scot was confronted with an extremely difficult 65-yard bunker shot. They say the long bunker shot is the most difficult in golf.
Seve had already finished his match. ‘San, San,’ he said to me, ‘tell Gordon to use a pitching wedge. It is too far for a sand wedge. Tell Gordon, tell Gordon.’ He was beside himself.
That was a no-no. You cannot tell a fellow pro how to play a shot in those circumstances. There was only one thing for it.
‘F*** off, Seve,’ I said. ‘You tell him if you want to.’ Fortunately he did not, though it was a different matter when it came to his captaincy, when he tried to play everyone’s shots.
Gordon manufactured a fabulous recovery and holed the putt for a point.
If Seve was anxious then, he was apoplectic at the drop Paul Azinger was given having driven into the water at the final hole of a fiery top singles match. That allowed the American somehow to clear the water in front of the green with his third. That just never happens.
Seve went bananas in the team room afterwards. The aforementioned 1991 match has been well documented, what with Seve and Azinger at it again and poor Calcavecchia throwing away the final four holes to allow Colin Montgomerie a half point.
And finally there was Europe’s strong man, Bernhard Langer, bravely fighting back against Hale Irwin and missing a 6-foot putt on the last that would have tied the contest. I say bravely, but I never did understand why he aimed to the side of two spike marks when they were directly on his line. What is the point of not aiming on the proper line?
Better surely to hit the ball on the correct line and hope that the spike marks do not affect the ball. No one is saying it was easy. I remember Michael Bonallack, the then R&A secretary, described it as ‘the biggest pressure putt in the history of golf’.
The toe infection that ruined my 1993 Ryder Cup, forcing me to withdraw from the singles, made me all the more determined that it would not be my last. I would be forty-two by 1995. It turned out to be a good year, a very good year, my best in that but for a terrific inward nine at Valderrama in the final counting event by Monty I would have won the Order of Merit.
Somehow, in successive fourball then foursomes matches straddling Friday and Saturday, my partner Costantino Rocca and I lost 6 and 5 and then won by exactly the same margin against the pairings of Jeff Maggert and Loren Roberts, and Maggert and Davis Love III.
Love is a decent sort. But his wife Robyn is a hoot. I remember her at a World Cup cocktail party in a heavily pregnant condition, seemingly well on the way to giving birth. This puzzled Jane James, Mark’s wife, who studied the bump and made what seemed a reasonable observation. ‘I did not think they would let you travel in that state,’ Jane said.
‘They do when it is your own plane, sweetie,’ Robyn replied.
The biggest disappointment that week was when Bernard Gallacher picked the all-Scottish combination of Torrance and Montgomerie to be his banker on the Saturday afternoon, and somehow we lost 4 and 2. I have no idea how. I doubt if either Brad Faxon or Fred Couples broke 79 with their own balls. But they dovetailed, or ‘ham and egged it’ as we say, in extra ordinary fashion.
The par five 13th rather summed it up. I stiffed it for a birdie whereupon Couples, short of the green in three, holed an outrageous chip for a half. The normally placid Couples even managed a jump in the air. ‘F*** you, Freddie,’ I whispered to Couples on the next tee.
That tickled him. In fact, he never stopped telling the story for hours, days and weeks afterwards. That I could say it and he could enjoy it demonstrated the strength of our relationship. My defeat of Loren Roberts in the singles, a key point (aren’t they all?) in Europe’s victory, proved to be my last playing appearance. I found myself ‘in the zone’ that day; that rare occasion professional sportspeople sometimes experience when everything works and you feel you can do anything.
On reflection it was a pretty nice way to bow out.
Excerpted and adapted from Out of Bounds, by Sam Torrance. Published by Simon & Schuster